Sinclair says no to former Fox host Bill O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox News prime-time host who was forced out this year after a series of sexual harassment claims, is apparently not welcome at conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group.

During a quarterly earnings call Wednesday, Sinclair CEO and President Chris Ripley shot down rumors that O’Reilly was in discussions to land a gig with Sinclair.

“We get approached all the time by a lot of people, and he did approach us,” Ripley said. “But we do not have any interest in hiring him.”

Representatives for O’Reilly couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.

Sinclair agreed to buy Chicago-based Tribune Media — former owner of the Chicago Tribune — in May for $3.9 billion, creating what would be the largest TV station group in the U.S. with more than 200 stations, reaching about 72 percent of TV households.

The proposed deal, which requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, has generated pushback from some broadcasters, lawmakers, media watchdogs and viewers troubled by Sinclair’s right-leaning editorial views and concerned about media concentration.

Hunt Valley, Md.-based Sinclair is fielding offers for stations it may need to sell to get under FCC ownership limits, but is exploring station swaps — exchanging stations rather than divesting — to get into compliance with regulators.

Ripley reiterated Wednesday that he believes Sinclair may not have to divest any stations, something that appears more likely given proposed changes to FCC media rules.

While loosening FCC media ownership rules would help, potential antitrust concerns from the Justice Department would likely drive any required station divestitures resulting from the proposed Tribune acquisition, Ripley said.

“We’ve been down this road assuming status quo on FCC rules, so it really doesn’t affect our divestiture plan,” Ripley said. “That is going to be driven by the DOJ’s result.”

Tribune Media owns or operates 42 TV stations, including WGN in Chicago, KTLA in Los Angeles and WPIX in New York, as well as WGN-AM 720 and cable channel WGN America.

Last month, the FCC stopped the 180-day transaction “shot clock” for 15 days to allow for more public comment about Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. Those comments are due Thursday.

During Wednesday’s call, Ripley pushed back the expected closing date to early 2018.

Sinclair reported a 3.3 percent decline in revenues during the third quarter, which it attributed to the impact of the hurricane season and other one-time adjustments. Net income was $30.6 million, down from $50.8 million during the same quarter in 2016.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @RobertChannick

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